Fascinating Insight into the Man Behind the Cradle of Humankind

Article excerpt

BYLINE: REVIEW: Sue Townsend

Phillip Tobias

Picador Africa and Wits Press

The original memoir of the national treasure that was Phillip Tobias, published in 2005, was heartily received by an adoring public.

This memorial edition follows his death in 2012.

That was more or less at the same time as his successor, Lee Berger (Research Professor in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at Wits University), announced the discovery of an Aladdin's cave containing incredible ancient hominid remains at the Cradle of Humankind. So the search for the origins of humankind continues; from the Leakeys in the Tanzanian Olduvai Gorge in 1950s through the work of Robert Broom, Raymond Dart and Tobias himself at Wits, to Lee Berger.

Tobias' generosity is displayed in his acknowledgements, which run to five pages, while his ego, rather endearingly, manifests in many of his descriptions of his life's work.

No matter: here is a man who was devoted to studying the evolution of humankind through palaeontology, anatomy, cytology, sociology and anthropology (and, not to forget, a healthy dose of philosophy).

This new edition also includes the obituary, published by the University of the Witwatersrand, describing his scientific work, his tireless campaign against racism and prejudice, and his numerous awards and honours.

He was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The main body of Tobias' memoir covers only the first 40 years of his life (he was 87 when he died) and is a careful mixture of the personal, the political and the scientific. He tells delightful stories. …